When I volunteered to write about gentleness, I thought it would be hard. I felt like nothing about me or my life is gentle. I’m naturally blunt and straightforward. Having a mood disorder means my emotions swing back and forth without warning. Sometimes I’m too harsh. Sometimes I come off as rude. I thought this was better than being seen as walked-on and weak. I dealt with depression from a young age and sadness was never allowed. My family made it clear to me that it implied that I was ungrateful. So, sadness was off the table. I had to hide it. What did I hide it behind? Anger.
As a short young introverted woman, I get stepped on literally and figuratively. And the resentment inside me grew. No one listened to me or took me seriously. Eventually, I began to explode at people one after the other, after years of not standing up for myself. Then, I was the bad guy. How was this fair? I felt like I could never win. I just didn’t want to be stepped on anymore. I put my foot down, and people didn’t like it. That’s all it was, wasn’t it?
No. I replaced shyness with hostility when what I needed to learn was gentleness. People didn’t listen to me, so I thought I had to make them listen to me, banging pots and pans together, yelling and screaming. They’d finally hear me, I thought. But that’s not how it worked. Many people have told me that as soon as someone raises their voice, they tune out what the person is saying. I think this is true for a lot of people. I may have been speaking up for myself, finally, but I wasn’t being heard because I went about it the wrong way.
Being gentle or meek does not mean that you are weak. Being gentle means that you are strong enough and have enough self-control to take a soft approach. I wanted to be heard, so I thought I needed to yell and force people to listen to me. I went from zero to a hundred. And still, nobody was listening to me. I didn’t want to be gentle. I didn’t want to sugarcoat the truth. I thought honesty must be harsh, but that’s not true. I can still stand up for myself and write about the things that matter to me without being angry or abrasive. My words don’t need to be jarring to get someone’s attention. And if that’s the way I get someone’s attention, they probably won’t really hear me out.
Being gentle or meek doesn’t mean you have to let others walk all over you. It means you are strong enough and have enough self-restraint to say the truth without making it cruel, to stand up for yourself without hurting someone’s feelings. I grew tired of being walked on, and I snapped over and over at people like a series of wooden planks breaking in two across a roaring river. I was burning bridge after bridge, but I didn’t feel any better. Now, I am trying to find the happy middle. I am trying to be gentle with others and myself. My friends tell me when I have a tone, and I try to work on it. It’s something I have struggled with ever since I was little. I am not naturally gentle, but I’ve learned that people respond a lot better to me when I make an effort to do speak kindly and graciously. Others have more respect for me, and I have more respect for myself.
I want to remind you all to be gentle with your families over the holidays who may not share the same religious or political beliefs as you. Respect yourself enough to not let others criticize you or the way you live your life, but also, respect others enough to respond to them with gentleness when they are stepping on your toes. They are much more likely to listen to you, and you won’t burn any bridges that you may need to walk back across later. Han Suyin, a Chinese author, said it better than I ever could”
“There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness.”
So, be strong. Be gentle. And enjoy the holidays.
August Pfizenmayer is a writer living in north Georgia. She shares her experiences with mental illness on The Mighty, The Odyssey, and her blog, Survival is a Talent. August lives with schizoaffective disorder, OCD, and social anxiety disorder. She hopes to educate and inspire others by sharing her experiences.